This post is a piece I wrote for the Memorial service which will be held today for Jim Rivers. Jim was a friend of mine from the years I spent in San Francisco. He died on February 24th, 2011 at the age of 75. Jim was a reader.
I lived next door to Jim and Helen on Guerrerro Street. I got to know Helen first; I ran into her on the steps outside the building. Jim was out of town and she had been over to feed his cat. As neighbors become friends in a city of transplants, I become friends with Jim and Helen. Weekend afternoons became a time to discuss books, films, a recent article in the New York Times, and drink iced coffee. Jim brewed coffee in a Melitta filter cone and he knew exactly how long you had to wait for the coffee to cool before pouring it over the ice cubes so they wouldn’t melt. I tried on many occasions, never to achieve his results.
I was unemployed at the time, in the middle of San Francisco’s tech bust, trying to figure out what was important. Jim, recognizing my juncture, introduced me to James Baldwin, the fundamentals of Blue Grass, and Kenneth Patchen . “What else do I really need than this,” I often contemplated. I was happy. Time with Jim and Helen temporarily unencumbered me of my obsession to fulfill the American Dream, the national fixation that Jim called the impossible burden.
Jim, he sat with himself, comfortably. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t fuss. He was good enough – something I’ve never been good at, except during weekend afternoons, sitting cross-legged on the floor, a cat in my lap, and Jim making iced coffee.
I am still guilty of being taken in by the belief of unbound potentialities: if only I work hard enough, if only I am astute enough, if only, if only. Jim, I will conjure you in my mind. I will think of you when I’m allowing myself to be bothered by a slight I should pay no mind. I will think of you when I am fixating on defining “good enough” as something I am not already. I’ll hum a Bill Monroe tune without worrying about who’s looking and I’ll think of you. If only for another weekend afternoon with Jim to be reminded of what’s important. Jim, “What shall we do without us?”